Iran has enriched uranium particles up to just short of weapons grade, placing further pressure on western powers to issue a third censure of Iran at a meeting of the nuclear watchdog board next week.
In its quarterly report to the governing board of the International Atomic Energy Association, officials also revealed that the restrictions placed on its inspectors meant it would take a considerable time to provide a full inventory or history of Iran’s enrichment process.
Iran has said the uranium particles, enriched to up to 83.7% purity, had occurred during the “transition period at the time of commissioning the process of [60%] product (November 2022) or while replacing the feed cylinder”.
But the IAEA’s faith in Iran’s reassurances in the absence of corroborative evidence is at an all-time low, and will only encourage Israel to encourage the west to endorse a military assault on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Speaking in Berlin, Israel’s visiting foreign minister, Eli Cohen, claimed there were only two options to deal with Iran: using a so-called “snapback” mechanism to reinstate wider UN sanctions on Iran; and “to have a credible military option on the table as well”.
But at the weekend, Bill Burns, the CIA director, continued to insist US intelligence did not have evidence that Iran had taken a weaponisation decision.
The latest IAEA report to the board speaks about “particles”, suggesting it does not believe that Iran as a matter of policy is yet building a stockpile of uranium enriched above 60% – the level it has been enriching at from some time.
The report finds the stockpile of uranium enriched at 60%, for which there is no known civilian nuclear use, has risen since the last report to the board. It estimated Iran’s total enriched uranium stockpile was 3,760.8kg (8,291lbs) as of 12 February. The limit set in the 2015 nuclear deal was set at 202.8kg of uranium, but that limit has been breached for many years by Iran.
On Monday in Geneva, Iran’s foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, insisted Tehran was willing to revive the nuclear deal, but the country’s leadership is riven about the wisdom of doing so. The US has said the revival of the talks is not its current focus. The west is under intense pressure to break off the talks, and instead to proscribe the Revolutionary Guardsin response to the suppression of Iranian street protests.
In practice, the west has said it will not revive the deal until Iran explains to the IAEA’s satisfaction about the origins of nuclear particles found at three old but undeclared sites. Rafael Grossi, the IAEA director general, is unlikely to go to Tehran unless he knows he is going to be given a fuller explanation than on his previous visits.
Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal limited Tehran’s uranium enrichment to 3.67% – enough to fuel a nuclear power plant. The US unilateral withdrawal from the accord under Donald Trump’s presidency in 2018 set in motion a series of attacks and escalations by Tehran over its program.
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